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What Happens When DEI Is Done Right: A Conversation with Marilyn Nagel

Marilyn Nagel

The recent ESG and DEI backlash in the business and political realm can be daunting. Yet for everyone working on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, take heart. DEI efforts are valuable, and wise company leaders will continue their commitment to DEI despite this backlash because of the positive impact that can be achieved through true dedication to creating diverse, equitable and inclusive work environments and cultures.

To highlight these benefits, we spoke with Marilyn Nagel, Boardwise partner and co-founder and chief advocacy officer of RISEQUITY. Prior to co-founding RISEQUITY, Marilyn served as CEO of Watermark and chief diversity officer at Cisco. She formed a consortium in Silicon Valley for STEM Diversity Officers and was a senior advisor to the Center for Talent and Innovation. Marilyn consults with pre- and post-IPO companies, Fortune 500 and global multinational companies on developing and implementing diversity strategies. She is an internationally known speaker and workshop facilitator on topics such as Inclusive Leadership, Building Intentional Connections, Inclusive Hiring, Creating Influence, as well as Board Accountability and Women’s Leadership. She has been a regular contributor to Huffington Post and other publications.

According to Nagel, the benefits of a diverse workforce are clear, “Multiple studies have confirmed that diverse talent helps companies better understand customers’ needs and deliver on those needs. Also, diverse workplaces create a culture of innovation and help drive the company towards goals through collaborative methods. The best teams include people with diverse skills and backgrounds, and research consistently shows that diverse teams make better decisions. Successful companies understand the business value of developing all employees by growing talent at all organizational levels to fulfill its mission while aligning with its values.”

Nagel acknowledges that  sometimes DEI programs are mismanaged. “Confusion arises when companies focus solely on and share diversity goals/targets through talent acquisition (TA). This is short-sighted in many ways. First, numeric goals for TA can drive bad behavior on the part of a hiring manager who may want to meet a goal and then hire someone less qualified, who ends up being unsuccessful. This is bad for the new hire who is labeled a ‘diverse hire’ and is bad for the overall culture by suggesting underrepresented candidates are not qualified or cannot succeed at the company. Suggesting a hiring target is neither advisable nor beneficial.”

The goal of increasing team diversity is to increase overall quality by adding new perspectives with people who can bring new points of view and avoid group think, according to Nagel. “Developing your existing talent and casting a wider net for qualified candidates that can bring both skills and new thinking are great DEI strategies that add value. Organizations can aspire to be diverse in multiple ways, including being best in class in diversity of thought, particularly on leadership teams. Many companies are also rethinking educational requirements tied to socioeconomic factors, but may not impact career success. These actions might take longer, and leaders need patience and must build new networks to create opportunities for those outside their usual circle.”

Nagel concludes, “To be truly successful, a company’s DEI strategy must focus on inclusion and equity, not on simply creating diversity from a numbers perspective. It must ensure everyone has opportunities to work toward their full potential, and that leaders create an inclusive culture for all and are representative of the whole organization as well as reflective of clients and customers.”

Leaders should continue to commit to practices that will improve the overall performance of their enterprises. When done right, DEI efforts can contribute to improved performance at many levels. Wise executives will count on DEI for the future and HR leaders must create holistic strategies to tie DEI to advancing business goals that integrate into the rhythms of the business to reap the benefits and value that creating a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace can bring.

Marilyn Nagel, is a key member of the Boardwise advisory team. She launched the first Inclusion Index and developed the Maturity Model for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion that has become an industry standard. Contact us if you would like to learn more about these tools and how to implement a successful and measurable DEI program at your organization.

Donna Hamlin

Dr. Donna Hamlin leads CHROs2Go, a division of the 2GoAdvisory Group, and is CEO of BoardWise. Donna has 30 years of corporate, governance and strategy consulting experience. She has a successful track record in human performance management and strategy change management and has served clients from start-ups to Fortune 500 global enterprises in more than 30 countries. As CEO of BoardWise, she oversee the organization's global programs, including its centers and their services. These include: board evaluations, professional certification and training, its global registry of qualified directors, Board Bona Fide®, its strategic partnership programs and its BoardWise center. She is certified for governance by the National Association of Corporate Directors in the U.S. and in global governance by Harvard University. Donna holds Ph.D. and M.S. degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a B.A. degree from Siena College and has studied at the University of London. A published author, she writes management articles in the area of strategy, brand value management, change and human performance management. She holds various board directorships.

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